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Ringling Bros. Producer Gets $9.3 Mln ASPCA Settlement

The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will receive $9.3 million from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals under a settlement that resolves protracted litigation over how the circus cared for its elephants.

Circus operator Feld Entertainment Inc. and the ASPCA filed dismissal papers in federal court in Washington today, ending litigation that had dragged on for more than 10 years, both sides announced in statements today.

Legal proceedings by Feld against the Humane Society of the U.S., the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, former Ringling Bros. employee Tom Rider and the attorneys involved will continue, according to the statement.

“Animal activists have been attacking our family, our company, and our employees for decades because they oppose animals in circuses,” Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive officer of Feld Entertainment, said in a statement today. “This settlement is a vindication not just for the company but also for the dedicated men and women who spend their lives working and caring for all the animals with Ringling Bros.”

The litigation stems from a complaint filed by ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals and Tom Rider in July 2000, alleging the “Greatest Show on Earth” mistreated its elephants with hooks and chains in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

2009 Trial

Ringling Bros. won at trial in December 2009, when the judge ruled that the case was based on the untruthful testimony of star witness Rider, who cared for Ringling elephants in one of the circus’s traveling units from 1997 to 1999. The court found Rider had received more than $190,000 over eight years from animal rights groups.

The circus, formed by the merger of two troupes 93 years ago, sued the ASPCA and other animal rights groups in August 2007 in the same court, claiming they violated federal racketeering laws by paying Rider to act as a plaintiff and witness in several cases alleging animal abuse.

“After more than a decade of litigating with Feld Entertainment, the ASPCA concluded that it is in the best interests of the organization to resolve this expensive, protracted litigation,” ASPCA president and CEO Ed Sayres said in a statement. “We are glad to put this matter behind us.”

Steve Pain, a spokesman for Feld, said he was pleased with the settlement and hoped the other animal rights groups would also seek a settlement. “This litigation has had nothing to do with animal care and everything to do with their political agenda,” Payne said in a telephone interview. “We hope they also will do the right thing.”

The case is American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 03-02006, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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